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Schools

Wilcox pulls plug on blog

The superintendent says "the lies, distortions and mean-spiritedness" of some posts to his blog made it not worthwhile.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published May 20, 2006


LARGO - "Good night and Good luck.''

With those words, Pinellas school superintendent Clayton Wilcox shut down his blog on the St. Petersburg Times Web site this week, ending a 14-month experiment.

The end came Thursday at 8:49 p.m., when Wilcox notified his audience that "the lies, distortions and mean-spiritedness of some was not worth my time or worthy of this district.''

The blog, dubbed the Classroom, began in March 2005 as a forum for Wilcox to elicit feedback and engage the public on a number of issues. Bus schedules, school start times, hurricane makeup days, curriculum changes, school discipline and budget cuts were some of the topics.

As recently as Tuesday, he invited parents and teachers to tell success stories about the just-completed school year. On Monday, he used the Classroom to respond at length to a Times story about poor teacher morale. He also invited discussion.

As always, the mostly anonymous responses ranged from civil and thoughtful to crude and sophomoric. Wilcox's constant pleas for "passionate but polite'' discussion often went ignored.

One excerpt from a post late Monday night: "You think you are smarter than everyone and you're really marginally intelligent at BEST. You screwed yourself ... and us. Pack your carpetbag and go home.''

Wilcox said School Board members and others had urged him recently to discontinue the blog. Instead he continued to embrace it.

The forum attracted attention in education circles nationally, prompting invitations for Wilcox to appear on conference panels about the pros and cons of blogging for top educators. He authored an article for this month's edition of the School Administrator, a trade publication.

"Today, the Classroom is flourishing,'' Wilcox wrote. "While sometimes dominated by passionate folks who want you to see the world the same way they see it, the blog also serves as a sounding board for folks who don't normally participate in district discussions.''

But he also wrote of the downsides: "Finding balance in the fast-paced world of the blogosphere is constantly a challenge.''

In an interview Friday, Wilcox described the blog as an important tool that became ugly and "like a cancer'' on the district.

"It just has gotten to the point where a small group of people just dominated it,'' he said. "I think it's sad, truthfully. ... I'm just disgusted with the lack of civility in it.''

Wilcox spoke Friday with Christine Montgomery, director of electronic publishing for the Times, who disabled the function that allows people to post. The forum no longer will be accessible from the Times Web site, though readers may read past posts by going directly to sptimes.com/classroom.

Montgomery called the blog an experiment that lasted longer than she expected. She said she and Wilcox will discuss the possibility of resurrecting the forum in another form when school starts this fall.

Participants probably would be required to register, she said.

She invited readers with questions and comments to contact her at cmontgomery@sptimes.com.

[Last modified May 21, 2006, 11:00:30]


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